In November 2017, President Donald Trump made headlines, across the US and around the world, for sharing via Twitter a series of Islamophobic videos previously posted by Jayda Fransen, a far-right activist from the UK who serves as deputy leader of Britain First and is widely known for her anti-Muslim rhetoric. The videos—whose authenticity was questioned by many—purportedly showed Muslims assaulting people and also smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary. As Robert Mackey reported for the Intercept, many who followed the ensuing controversy interpreted statements by President Trump in a January 2018 interview with Piers Morgan as an apology for his inflammatory posts. Indeed, Morgan himself had promoted this episode of his show, Piers Morgan Live, as one that would feature Trump’s apology. However, as Mackey wrote, “Video of the exchange, however, reveals that something quite different happened. Far from expressing regret, or taking any responsibility for his role in helping to promote the hateful ideology of the racist group Britain First, Trump offered a variety of excuses.”
During the interview, Trump’s first explanation for having shared the anti-Muslim videos was that they were a depiction of “radical Islamic terror.” He went on to explain that, even though he had effectively promoted the propaganda campaign of Britain First, a far-right and ultra-nationalist political group, this was hardly worth mentioning and was “not a big story” in the US. Finally, Trump explained, he should not be held responsible for these hateful tweets because he had not known that they had been posted by racists. Morgan asked Trump for an apology so that the British could get to know “the real you.” As Mackey reported, Trump “stammered out something less than contrition,” saying, “If you’re telling me that’s a horror p – people, horrible racist people, horror – I would certainly apologize, if you’d like me to do that.” But, Mackey wrote, “instead of going on to actually offer an apology, Trump returned to excusing himself, adding, ‘I know nothing about them.’”
Responding to the Piers Morgan interview, Tracy Brabin, a member of Parliament, directed a tweet to Trump’s Twitter account, seeking the apology that he had offered during the broadcast. (Brabin occupies the Parliament seat previously held by Jo Cox, a pro-European MP assassinated in 2016 by a white supremacist who shouted “Britain First” as he stabbed and shot her.) As Mackey reported, Brabin received no response from the president.
Mackey’s report connected Trump’s comments during the Piers Morgan interview with a February 2016 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in which Tapper called on Trump—then a candidate for the Republican nomination—to condemn David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and advocate of other white supremacist groups, after Duke had publicly endorsed Trump. “I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists,” Trump said. Pressed by Tapper, Trump continued, “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists, so, I don’t know. … You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about.” As Mackey noted, Trump’s claim not to know anything about Duke sounded improbable because, five months earlier, Trump had responded to a question from John Heilemann of Bloomberg News—“Would you repudiate David Duke?”—by saying, “Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better.”
Source: Robert Mackey, “Donald Trump Might Apologize for Retweeting British Racists, If It Means So Much to You”, The Intercept, January 26, 2018, https://theintercept.com/2018/01/26/donald-trump-might-apologize-retweeting-british-racists-means-much/.
Student Researcher: Isabelle Kelleher (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)